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Sea Stories: The Last Beer


Gunboat1
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Sea Stories:  The Last Beer

 

In late 1994, I was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines.  I was still a Naval Reserve officer at the time, as I had not yet retired.  This was a time of great upheaval in the US Navy presence in the Far East, as the Philippine Senate had voted to eject US forces from their bases in the country.  Several major bases were closed, and all US military personnel departed the country.  One of these bases was NAS Cubi Point.  The officer’s club at NAS Cubi Point was the site of a legendary bar.  It was well known and beloved to thousands of officers who enjoyed R&R there, especially during the Vietnam War.  The walls were covered with hundreds of squadron plaques and other memorabilia of decades of deployments, many in direct combat.  If you have ever seen the 1991 movie Flight of the Intruder, a major scene is set in the Cubi O-Club bar.  Yes, many inebriated patrons did in fact simulate carrier landings in a contrived “trap” apparatus, with a dunking in a pond at the end if you missed catching the arresting wire.  From another website describing the place: 

“Oh my goodness!  There never was any Officer’s Club like the Cubi Pt. one, nor will there ever be again.  The wild escapades of naval officers and aviators letting off steam following their long periods at sea and especially in combat are the stuff of legends.  Oh, the many stories the still standing but long closed building’s walls could tell.

I had visited the club while on active duty in 1984, 1985 and again in 1987, during deployment port visits.  It had a majestic view, inexpensive drinks, and a wild and well-earned reputation for debauchery.  It was an unforgettable experience.

One day in late 1994, my work took me to the recently-closed NAS Cubi Point.  All American personnel were gone, the base was under Philippine control, and it was basically a ghost town.  I drove by the O-Club for old times’ sake.  The door to the O-Club was standing open!  Of course, I had to stop in to reminisce.  The place was pretty much deserted, but a table by the front door had a few odd pieces of the Club’s dining room china sitting on it, with a sign indicating that they were for sale.  I called around until I found a nice Filipino gentleman cleaning up the place and asked if I might still buy a souvenir or two.  “Sure!” he replied, and I did.  I asked if I might walk about the place for old time’s sake.  “Sure, sir!” I walked back to the bar.  There it was, all those colorful plaques still on the wall, echoes of nights past, warriors fallen and alive whispering across decades.  Empty boxes sat on the floor, and the gentleman indicated that the memorabilia was to be removed and packed into them, for transport back to the USA.  The dust was settling on what had been a vibrant, intense epicenter of naval tradition and lore.  The silence reigned over the red leather chairs and barstools, the music system turned off, the band stage empty. 

I asked the gentleman, “Do you happen to have any beer, still?  He indicated that he did.  “Would you sell me one?”  I asked.  “Sure , sir!” he cheerfully replied.  I laid a few dollars on the bar, and the gentleman opened a cold bottle of San Miguel beer from the small refrigerator behind the bar and set it in front of me.

And that is how a Surface Warfare officer, not an aviator, drank the last beer in the NAS Cubi Point Officer’s Club bar.

Postscript:  The NAS Cubi Point Officer’s Club bar has been recreated, using those original plaques and other artifacts, and is today the visitor’s café at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.  I hope to visit it again someday.
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